BEING dropped did not come as a surprise to young St Kilda midfielder Jack Steele.
The Saints had been convincingly beaten three games in a row, losing to Sydney, the Western Bulldogs and Adelaide after a previous three-match winning streak.
Steele, in his first season at the club after crossing from Greater Western Sydney, had faltered in the areas he had considered his strengths and was out of the side for rounds 13 and 14.
"I didn't have a very good game against Adelaide, so I did see it coming. Richo (coach Alan Richardson) told me what it was about. I knew exactly what it was," Steele told AFL.com.au.
"I just wasn't as there as I was earlier in the season, like my pressure and tackling wasn't quite there."
In that clash against the Crows, Steele had 15 disposals and four tackles.
He came back a few weeks later with the same number of disposals against Fremantle, while equalling David Armitage's club record of 17 tackles.
It was an impressive year for Steele in which he finished ranked second in the competition for average tackles, behind only Geelong hard nut Scott Selwood.
That came after a limited pre-season, having to recover from a fractured metatarsal in his left foot. He did not run until December, although Steele does not think it hindered him last season.
This time though, the scenario is different. After travelling to the US with teammates Blake Acres and Luke Dunstan, he posted a personal best in the 3km time trial on his return. Acres and Dunstan did the same.
The 21-year-old managed to enjoy his holiday though, living up to one of his nicknames, 'The Pig', for his propensity to eat large amounts of food. It was a reputation he established early on at St Kilda.
"This time last year I had a broken foot and a big pot belly," Steele said.
At 187cm, his big body is hard to beat in the contest, and he is more than adept at hitting targets, but Steele knows where he needs to improve.
"I want to increase my running capacity during a game," he said.
"I feel like I'm fit out here training but I don't really utilise that so much when it comes to a game, so that's going to be my focus. Just getting a lot more on the outside."
Improvement will be needed, with plenty of inside midfielders competing for spots in the side.
Armitage will be back in the mix in 2018 after an injury-plagued campaign, Dunstan ended the season well, Koby Stevens looked good in his first year at the Saints, and Seb Ross and Jack Steven are bona fide stars.
Steele never strung together more than six games in a row at the Giants and he is determined to stay in the side, even if it comes at the expense of his closest friends.
"You want to play in front of your best mate. If you have to beat him to play, then you just do it," Steele said.
The first-to-fourth-year players have been back for more than a week. A couple of days were spent in Yea in central Victoria at a camp where the young Saints changed up their training.
There were other goals for them, too, as the Saints look to make the finals for the first time since 2011.
"It was more just about bonding the group and the morale within the young boys, and I suppose maintaining that when the older boys get back and driving them forward too, because we're the foundation of the club," Steele said.
"if we're pushing them for spots, they're going to push even harder as well, so it just drives the whole club forward."